NAUGATUCK — Daryl Masone extended a hand Friday afternoon to a cowering feral dog in the garage of her Autumn Ridge Road home.
The white dog, named Blanche, hesitated, and Masone knew she could be attacked.
The dog was a poodle.
Blanche is one of five toy poodles found a couple weeks ago in a crate, abandoned on the side a quiet residential lane in New Fairfield. After a week in an animal shelter, she and three of the other poodles are making their way to 20 Autumn Ridge Road, where Masone runs the nonprofit Poodle Rescue Connecticut.
Masone waited patiently until Blanche finally nuzzled her hand. It was the first time the dog had touched a human since she was found.
“This is huge,” Masone said, delicately stroking Blanche’s head.
When a poodle needs a temporary home, animal control officers and dog lovers from Maine to Maryland know to call Masone, 62, a lifelong borough resident.
She has been rescuing poodles for more than 12 years, but her love affair with poodles began 24 years before that, when she was driving down Cherry Street and stopped to avoid hitting a stray that had escaped from the pound at the end of the road. Masone opened her door to discern what had become of the dog, and a poodle named Maggie jumped into the car.
“She was the love of my life,” Masone said.
Masone adopted Maggie, and other poodles afterward, before she came across a newspaper article encouraging dog lovers to rescue and foster their favorite breeds. She asked her husband Pete, now 68, if he would mind fostering poodles.
They had no idea how many poodles, stereotypically small and expensive lapdogs or large and expensive show dogs, were in need of rescue.
“I stopped counting at 1,500 that have come through these doors and ruined my floors and my rugs and my woodwork,” Daryl Masone said.
Four years ago, Masone got 40 poodles at once from a man who was breeding puppies. Three months after she had finished finding those dogs new homes, she received a family of 34 from a woman under similar circumstances.
Masone and her husband now own five poodles, some dogs they were never able to find homes for. Eight more foster poodles made a home in the three-bedroom ranch house Friday afternoon, many in crates in the living room or garage.
Poodles are rarely abandoned the way they were in New Fairfield, Masone said. Many are given up after divorces, when owners move into apartments that do not allow dogs or from senior citizens who enter a nursing home or die.
Masone just got one toy poodle, missing one eye with a cataract over the other, because small children in the family constantly terrified the nearly-blind dog. The owners cried as they dropped her off, Masone said.
Masone retired last August from her job running a lab at the Veolia wastewater treatment plant. A master gardener, she now spends her time tending to her garden and caring for the dogs with her husband, who is also retired. The couple never takes vacations together because they cannot leave all the dogs alone.
“Now we only work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Pete Masone said.
The point is to find permanent homes for all the poodles.
A $200-$500 “required donation” for adoption still does not cover the expenses of caring for the dogs, who cost $70,000 last year in veterinary bills alone, Pete Masone said.
Masone said she has taken in mistreated and neglected poodles with hair so long they could barely walk. She does so without calling police or asking any questions. If she did, she fears people would abandon their poodles rather than turning them over to rescue.
“You don’t have to dump a dog by the side of the road,” Masone said. “I’m not judgmental. Just call.”